Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: The sequence during the Easter octave is optional, but we opt to read it in our congregation. May we know what is the proper or more reverential posture to do, while nothing explicit is stated in the rubrics? We assume that we may sit while reading it aloud together with the reader since we only stand for the Gospel, which immediately follows it. But since the sequence is about Christ’s resurrection (a central mystery of our faith), is it not proper to stand than just sit while reciting it with the reader? I am also interested to know the proper posture to follow in sequences of other feasts, for example, September 15, Our Lady of Sorrows; Corpus Christi; and Pentecost Sunday. — G.B., Manila, Philippines
A: Although there is nothing explicit in the rubrics there are certain indications that I believe are clear enough.
First of all, there is a change in place of the singing of the sequence as indicated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
“64. The Sequence, which is optional except on Easter Sunday and on Pentecost Day, is sung before the Alleluia.”
In the extraordinary form, the sequence is sung after the Alleluia, except for the Dies Irae at funerals in which the Alleluia is omitted. This is probably because the sequence developed as a kind of extension of the Alleluia’s last notes to which words were later added.
According to the principal guides for the extraordinary form, the common position during the singing of Alleluia and sequence at a solemn Mass would be seated.
Since the rubrics of the ordinary form mandate that all rise at the Alleluia, the fact that the sequence is now intentionally placed before the Alleluia would indicate that the sequence is also sung seated.
It is true that standing is a posture that symbolizes the Christian’s participation in the Resurrection. It is also true that, during Eastertide, standing substitutes kneeling for singing the litanies of the saints during the rites where it is foreseen, such as ordinations. However, this does not imply that the overall norm changes. During Mass, we rise at the Alleluia to welcome the Gospel, and although the Easter sequence is sublime poetry it is not God’s Word.
As mentioned by our reader, there are now four official sequences in use at Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi and Our Lady of Sorrows. Only Easter and Pentecost are obligatory. The Dies Irae for Masses of the Dead is no longer found in the ordinary form. At the same time, all of the sequences could be used as suitable hymns on other days as well as outside the liturgy.
The sequence differs from the hymn principally in varying the structure of its Latin meter and in changing the melody slightly in each verse whereas the hymn is uniform in both. It was also common to alternate between two choirs of men and boys for greater effect. Both the Stabat Mater and Dies Irae were not originally composed as sequences and so do not respect this general custom.
Before the Council of Trent, there were many more sequences. There are about 5,000 known sequences in medieval manuscripts of widely diverse quality, although the number actually used in the liturgy was far fewer. The Tridentine reform kept four of the above-mentioned texts, with the Stabat Mater added later.